The stigma of menial jobs and survival struggle are intertwined. With a high unemployment rate in the country, people holding honest but small jobs have to live through social degradation owing to what the society thinks to be disrespectful. Where does one street vendor, with tertiary degrees, stand in this confusion?
Despite his parents' disapproval, Kamal (pseudonym) took a long walk of roughly 30 kilometres from his village to Cumilla cantonment where a recruitment for soldiers was ongoing – a dream job for the penniless 22-year-old.
But he sat for the examination in vain, his attempts to join the police and the air-force also went astray. Still holding his dream of becoming a soldier close to heart, Kamal roams around the city vendoring mobile accessories.
What becomes a fresh graduate's major concern? Of course, getting a good job first, taking pride in the achievement, and sharing the joy with close ones.
Kamal's days of struggle and hardwork did not yet allow him to have a significant transition into better days. He could not manage the gut to let his family know of his current profession.
His farmer family was poor to start with, and the situation worsened with his father suffering a stroke. Among four brothers and three sisters, Kamal was the second born. He along with his elder brother shouldered the responsibility of the family. Then a student of Nadiabad Alhaz Abdul Wadud Sarker Fazil Madrasah, tutoring students did not get him enough money, so he also took work as a labourer in his village.
It was tough for Kamal. He talked of the frustration and humiliation he went through, "I could never have new books, or any books at all. I waited for my classmates to finish reading, and only then I got to read a lesson from the books."
His classmates mocked him. The teachers proved utterly unheeding of his situation, Kamal reminisced, "It was a rule to wear new clothes on Eid days, but I had had none. And my teachers beat me up – memories like this torment me till this day."
Study break was inevitable for Kamal, he dropped out of his Dakhil (equivalent of SSC) examination in 2006. After a few years he managed to sit for the exam, and completed his Alim (equivalent of HSC) in the subsequent years.
With hopes of getting a high education, he also enrolled in Nadiabad Alhaz Abdul Wadud Sarker Fazil Madrasah for obtaining a Fazil (Bachelors) degree.
But it was then that the family financial crisis hit the roof and drove him out of his village and studies.
With the aim to solving the money problem, he came to Dhaka in 2014 and took a job as a security guard at a reputed hotel for a salary of Tk6,000 only. All the while, he distantly continued his studies for Fazil degree.
But what happened after that? Where did his career trajectory take him?
Kamal sighed, "What did I not do to honestly earn money! I drove a van, pulled a rickshaw, worked as a labourer in construction fields, painted buildings and so on. But even after passing Fazil, I had to end up as a street-vendor."
People from Kamal's village do not know about his current occupation, as to them an educated man like him should do something big and "respectable."
Now, Kamal's days start at 7.00am by catching a bus from Uttara. His products – the mobile accessories hang on a plastic device. He buys them on wholesale from Gulistan on Saturdays and Tuesdays. The rest of the week he vendors the product around the city. Kamal earns between Tk700 and Tk1,000 daily. He has to divide this earning in three equal parts, one for his own expenses, one for his wife and child, and the other for his ailing father.
Kamal heavyheartedly disclosed, his family has no clue of his occupation either, "None of them knows that I am a hawker, or that I worked as a security guard. They hold high hopes about me, it would break heart to know that I am living the life of a hawker," said Kamal.
This man's observation on surroundings spoke up to a bitter truth, "Maybe survival would be a bit easier for me doing this work, only if people around me had a positive attitude towards "menial" jobs."
Taking from life, Kamal found out that people are mostly inconsiderate, and rather hurtful. His stiff facial muscles captured his troubled mind, "My educational background is valueless as I am a mere hawker. Most of the time, I receive taunting remarks from people – and it shakes my confidence to keep the struggle up."
Kamal is to sit for his Kamil (Masters) examination in February next year. After he passes the examination, he has been promised by one of his friends to be recruited as a helping staff at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
"The payment will not be significantly more. But I am tired of receiving people's jibes and want to do something respectable at least," said Kamal.
People like Kamal are innumerable, they are still searching for a better settlement, for a better livelihood – simply a better life.
According to the Labour Force Survey 2016-17 conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the total number of unemployed population in the country is 2.7 million which has increased from 2.6 million in 2015-16.
In this situation, most of the youth have no other choice than taking a low-paid job or small business as they do not get the opportunity to get job according to their qualifications.
Owning a toilsome life, Kamal still prefers seeing the glass half full, "I want to earn enough money for my family and my three-year-old child. I believe in my will-power, and I will put my best effort into any work that I am doing."